ANTH 281 Seeds of Divinity

Collection of student papers from Antonia Foias' Anthropology course, Seeds of Divinity.


A Study of two Maya Tenons from Corozal
A Study of two Maya Tenons from Corozal
This paper concerns two Maya tenons that reside in the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). One, with accession number 1870.1.1 shows an anthropomorphic face with a peaked headdress, while the other, 1870.1.2., sports a zoomorphic face with humanoid head emerging from its jaws. These two sculptures were collected by Williams students during a trip to Honduras and Belize in 1870-1871, sponsored by the Williams Lyceum. Beyond this, very little is known about these sculptures due to the same reason that they are in the museum’s possession. While these students were in Central America two of the students went on a short trip to the small agricultural town of Corozal where they acquired these two stone tenons and brought them back to Williams College.
Animal Coessence in The Seeds of Divinity: Naturalism, the Gods, and the Souls
Animal Coessence in The Seeds of Divinity: Naturalism, the Gods, and the Souls
An analysis of three pieces from the upcoming The Seeds of Divinity exhibit at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). The exhibit includes objects from five Precolumbian Mesoamerican civilizations: the Aztec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, and West Mexico/Nayarit.
Communicating with Maya Gods and Ancestors through Architecture
Communicating with Maya Gods and Ancestors through Architecture
Objects are all around us, just as they were for the Maya. They help provide structure, meaning and functionality to our lives. It is rare that we really see our objects, as opposed to subjecting them to a passing glance. Nevertheless, with time we can look back at the things of the past and give due attention to them, beginning to understand and appreciate them in a way that may not be possible for the things of the present. The first step on that journey is purposeful seeing – noticing without taking for granted.
Communicating with the Deceased: The Meaning and Function of the Standing Dog figure, Standing Male Figure Holding Ball...
Communicating with the Deceased: The Meaning and Function of the Standing Dog figure, Standing Male Figure Holding Ball...
The Standing Dog, Standing Male Figure Holding Ball, and Model of House Scene are three among many objects featured in The Seeds of Divinity, an exhibit opening at the Williams College Museum of Art on January 1, 2018. While the exhibition covers five Mesoamerican civilizations – Maya, Teotihuacán, West Mexico, Zapotec, and Aztec – these three mortuary objects all come from West Mexico. In this essay, I want to explore the way that these specific objects embodied the common ideologies shared among the five Mesoamerican civilizations mentioned above, as well as those specific to West Mexico cultures. First, I will give a general overview of the sociopolitical situation, geographic location, and religion (which is informed by ethnographic research of the Huichol Indians) of the ancient West Mexico civilizations, such as the shaft tomb culture (from which our three objects came). Then I will discuss the physical description and style of the three objects. Finally, I will examine the context, meaning and function of the objects.
Cosmic Travellers: Iconography and Function of Two West Mexican Ceramic Figurines
Cosmic Travellers: Iconography and Function of Two West Mexican Ceramic Figurines
The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) has, in its collection, two ancient West Mexican ceramic figurines: one, a pregnant woman, and the other, a standing woman with a pot (fig 1, 7). Without definitavely knowing what these figurines meant to their creators, I have chosen to withhold titling them. Instead, will refer to them simply and descriptively as the “pregnant woman” and the “woman with the pot.” Because these figurines are intact, they were likely recovered from burials, where they sat in relative safety for the two millennia since their genesis. Their iconography, function, and meaning remain mysterious, but a comparative examination of them in the context of wider Mesoamerican views begins to reveal the uniquely powerful role they served: as a bridge for living West Mexicans to access different levels of their cosmos.
Face to Face With Divinity in Lacandon God Pots
Face to Face With Divinity in Lacandon God Pots
As part of our Seeds of Divinity exhibit, WCMA is proud to present two Lacandon Maya incense burners (see Figures 1 and 2), preeminently sacred objects with fraught and uncertain histories. A central element in the Lacandon religious practice of offering to and dialogue with the divine, incense burners, also called god pots, are an animate medium through which the Lacandon communicate with their gods. What can these objects tell us about the cosmovision of the people who made them? Currently residing primarily in Chiapas, the Yucatecan-speaking Lacandon have cultural roots that trace back to conquest-period Yucatán. How did they arrive in Chiapas? How do they live and worship? In this essay, I will use the WCMA god pots as a window to delve into the cosmovision of the Lacandon, a people profoundly rooted in the Mesoamerican tradition of direct communion with the gods through offering.
Investigating the Standing Figure, Standing Figurine, and Seated Figurine from Teotihuacan
Investigating the Standing Figure, Standing Figurine, and Seated Figurine from Teotihuacan
ANTH 281 paper. Prior to this investigation, little was known about the function and meaning of the following three objects from Teotihuacan: the Standing Figure, Standing Figurine, and Seated Figurine. On loan to the Williams College Museum of Art from the Worcester Art Museum, these objects will be displayed in the exhibition ​The​ ​Seeds of Divinity ​alongside many other objects from ancient Mesoamerica, each with their own distinct cultural meaning and background. While the exhibition is an opportunity for the objects to come together as part of a larger conversation about divinity, it is my hope that this paper considers the objects on a more individual, or at least intimate, level. I will first introduce the civilization to which they belong, Teotihuacan, and then present a detailed, observation-based description of their appearance. Then, I will consider their medium, position in time, and production relative to their civilization. Finally, I will discuss their original context, function, and meaning, which will help us to visualize and understand the objects in the same way that they were once understood thousands of years ago: as sacred, animate entities.
Life-Giving Deities and their Human Counterparts:  An Exploration into the Aztec Civilization
Life-Giving Deities and their Human Counterparts: An Exploration into the Aztec Civilization
This paper will provide an overview of the Aztec civilization essential to contextualizing these objects. It will focus on justifying the identification of each object and include descriptions of the meaning of their specific attributes. I contextualize these objects within the broader Aztec civilization, pointing to their function and use and the impact that they have in the lives of pre-Columbian peoples.
Music, Warriors, and Ritual Figurines: Life Beyond the Shaft Tombs of West Mexico
Music, Warriors, and Ritual Figurines: Life Beyond the Shaft Tombs of West Mexico
The Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica, or Central America and Mexico, all share a remarkably similar world view, one that has been documented and studied by European scholars since the first Spanish conquests of the area. This shared cosmovision contains complex ideas which resonate throughout all aspects of Mesoamerican life. The objects created by the civilizations are no exception, and they are woven into the fabric of ritual and spiritual life across the region. The creation of figurines in Mesoamerica is a strong example of this phenomenon. In this paper, the Seated Musician with Rasp and Seated Warrior hollow figures from the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art (TL.98.13.4 and TL.98.13.5 respectively) represent a long-standing tradition in the West Mexican civilization that has become the primary source of information on the civilization as a whole. This paper aims to describe and reanimate these two objects by placing their symbolism, iconography, and use in rituals of death within the civilization’s worldview.
Objects of West Mexico: Meaning and Importance
Objects of West Mexico: Meaning and Importance
The three objects examined in this paper are called Seated Musician with Rasp, House Scene with Musicians and Dancers, and Ceremonial Village Scene with Flying Figure, all from the Nayarit region of West Mexico. These names were not given by the creator of the pieces, as any such identification has been lost with time. Rather, the names are given by the anthropologists, art historians, or other individuals who research or present these objects. As such, an object’s name is subject to change as understandings of the piece evolve. For example, the original name given to Seated Musician with Rasp was Figure Holding Wrapped Baby. When compared to other similar objects of its time period, however, it becomes clear that the figure is holding a rasp rather than a child. The name of this piece, therefore, has been changed for this exhibit.
Teotihuacan Masks and Figurines
Teotihuacan Masks and Figurines
After opening the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun and removing the pharaoh’s sarcophagus after three-millennia of undisturbed rest, the members of the exploratory team were gripped by a sudden wave of mortality. Rumors of a “curse of the pharaohs” ignited the public imagination and spread like wildfire. Though the myth of the “curse of the pharaohs” has been debunked by the normal lifespans of most team-members, the idea that a long-dead king could wield deadly spiritual powers against the living both captivated and alarmed audiences across the world.